When Kate walked into a free skin check appointment, she never expected to find a life threatening basal cell carcinoma – let alone two.
She knew she was probably at greater risk as a fair-skinned woman, but when an irregularity was spotted within minutes of her check, the reality of the sun’s danger really dawned on her.
“I was surprised at how easily they could identify it,” Kate says. “They literally took a quick look and said ‘that needs to be looked at further by a doctor’.”
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Following that advice, Kate wasted no time in getting a specialist opinion.
“I had two basal cell carcinoma removed with 16 stitches in my forehead,” Kate recalls of the lucky finding. “I now apply sunscreen every day and wear a hat. I am much more mindful now.”
Kate’s skin check was provided by Adore Beauty’s SPF365, a week-long roadshow initiative in partnership with Skin Smart Australia. Visiting locations across Australia, SPF365 performed hundreds of free skin checks in a bid to spread awareness about skin cancer.
While a wake-up call to us all, Kate’s story is sadly all too familiar. According to Cancer Council, about two in three Australians are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before the age of 70.
Jane Homberger, CEO of Skin Smart Australia, says skin cancer’s lethal unpredictability is to blame for these harrowing numbers.
“Melanomas can develop anywhere on the body, including areas that have never seen the sun, so looking in areas such as the scalp and the soles of the feet is vitally important,” Homberger says.
The wrath of Australia’s rising skin cancer rates is enabled by some dangerous misconceptions, but Homberger is ready to set the record straight.
#1. It’s a problem for future you
“Unfortunately skin cancer is seen as a health issue that affects primarily the older members of our population,” says the Skin Smart CEO. “This is definitely not the case; melanoma is the most common cancer diagnosed in young adults aged between 18 to 39.”
#2. The rules don’t apply in winter
“Young people are also not aware that in most areas of Australia during our winter months, we are still exposed to damaging UV radiation. Whenever the UV index reaches three and above, we need to protect our skin when outdoors.”
#3. The darker your skin, the more immune you are
“Many young people think that if they have a more olive or darker complexion, they will be immune to the damage that the sun causes to their skin. This is absolutely not correct and we regularly see melanomas on darker skin types.”
Homberger says that individuals who rarely burn are often at greater risk of skin cancer because they spend the most time in the sun.
Protecting your skin is the greatest investment you can make
We’ve all experienced a bad sunburn at some point, and can usually trace it back to forgetting to reapply sunscreen regularly every two hours. When it comes to what we put on our skin, it can be hard to know which brand or texture will be our perfect match.
“We are spoiled with choice when it comes to selecting an SPF,” Homberger says. “Become familiar with the ingredients in your SPF and choose one that suits you and your skin type.”
While cheaper alternatives might work in other areas of life (Aldi dupes I’m looking at you), you don’t want to take any risks with your sunscreen. Using a high-quality product that contains long-term skin benefits will encourage you to actually apply it, instead of letting it gather dust in the bathroom cabinet.
Why it’s important to stay on top of regular skin checks
You (hopefully) keep a regular appointment with your dentist to ensure you’re keeping your teeth in tip-top condition, so the same commitment should apply to your skin. While the prevalence of skin cancer is alarmingly high in Australia, not every diagnosis needs to be a fatal one.
„Having a melanoma diagnosed at its earliest stage will provide an individual with a five-year relative survival rate of approximately 99 per cent.“ Homberger shares. „Unfortunately, the relative survival rate of an advanced melanoma falls significantly to approximately 20 per cent after five years and therefore provides a poor prognosis.“
According to the skin check specialist, on top of regular appointments with a doctor, you should be keeping an eye on any irregular-looking spots, moles or marks at home too.
„Change is also a very strong indicator of a suspicious skin lesion,“ she says. „If you suspect that you have a spot that is changing size, shape, colour, becoming sore, bleeding or even itchy, please seek medical advice immediately.“